There are many paths you can take to become a career chef; however, there are three that are most popular. You can work you way up by starting out at the very bottom of the industry, say peeling potatoes at your local restaurant, move up to a line cook, a cook, a sous chef, and finally a chef. This will take some time and perseverance, but it’s a great way to learn the ins and outs of the industry and really know what every single person does. This is especially good if you do not have the funds to go to school and can be beneficial for future restaurant owners, since you’ll truly learn the ropes.
The next option is to become an apprentice to someone great. You will probably need to have some skills honed before you can do this, whether it’s through self-teaching or through classes, and then you will have to prove that you deserve being an apprentice. If you yourself want to be an amazing chef, then you must learn from someone who will be able to teach you just that. This can be a great path, since you will be able to pick up tips and tricks you won’t get anywhere else. It can also make a perfect combination with the first option: first try out all the entry-level positions, then find the chef that is the right teacher for you and learn from him or her.
Of course, the other option is to get a formal education. This can involve taking classes and workshops or completing a full-fledged degree at a university or college. There are many programs available for aspiring chefs. The benefit is that they will teach you the technical side of things, as well as business aspects of the food industry. You will still probably have to start as a cook, but you’ll have the tools to grow faster within the industry. If you are interested in a particular type of cooking or a cuisine, you may want to explore international schools and chefs. For example, if you want to specialize in Italian cuisine, then going to Italy and taking classes there or from a local chef, might just be the perfect choice for you.
There is a variety of choices when it comes to the paths you can take to become a culinary chef. It’s important to evaluate your options carefully and pick what is right for you, your learning style, budget, and aspirations.
WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE IN Culinary Arts?
- Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts
This college boasts 16 campuses across the US, two of the most famous located in Boston and in Austin. They offer associate degrees, certificates, and diplomas in the culinary arts, patisserie and baking, hospitality, and restaurant management, as well as classes for home cooks. Additionally, you can choose to take courses online. Sample tuition for an A.S. in Boston is $37,000.
- Institute of Culinary Education
Located in New York, the institute offers 4 different career paths through their schools of Culinary Arts, Pastry and Baking Arts, Culinary Management, and Hospitality Management. Additionally, you can choose to take workshops, seminars, or come to a variety of lectures. Students also get external placements. Sample tuition for the Culinary Arts stream is $38,500 for the 8-month program.
- International Culinary Center
With campuses in New York and California, ICC has a more hands-on range of certifications, including culinary arts, Italian and Spanish culinary experiences, as well as farm-to-table, entrepreneurship and culinary arts immersion programs. Sample tuition for a culinary arts course ranges from $33,900 to $48,750, depending on the intensiveness and duration of the course.
- Johnson & Wales University
With JWU, you can choose to study in Providence, North Miami, Denver, Charlotte, or online. The university offers B.S. level studies in Baking & Pastry Arts and Culinary Nutrition, as well as A.S. degrees in Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry Arts. JWU charges an average of $28,239 per year for undergrads.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
As we’ve mentioned before, there are many paths one can take to become a culinary chef, so there is no one definitive piece of advice on how to get started in the industry. Many experts will tell you, however, that the best way to begin is by taking on an entry-level positions in the kitchen or even client facing jobs, such as busing or serving.
Getting to know the industry and understanding how a restaurant works is essential for any chef, whether you are working at a 5 star hotel or at a local pub. In the long run, you will need to able to supervise, which is best done when you know exactly what your team needs to be able to deliver, how difficult it is, the personality traits you are looking for in new hires, etc.
Networking is as always an important part of making your way in the industry. Just knowing people, however, won’t be enough. They need to know that you are good, have the skills and technique to grow, and have the right attitude for success. That’s an important combination.
Remember that the food industry is competitive; since it’s a service industry, clients expect only the best, and so do employers. If you want to go far in the business, your priority should be to perfect the art of cooking and always offer your best, no matter the job.